The reasons for the Dodgers’ cool, unfiltered confidence this October, the reasons they believe this is finally the year they’ll hoist that piece of metal, were put on display in their 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series at Globe Life Field on Tuesday.
Want dominant pitching? Clayton Kershaw held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run and two hits over six tidy innings. What about a power display? Cody Bellinger, sore shoulder and all, cracked a home run for the series’ first two runs. Think dynamic baserunning is important? Mookie Betts, the Dodgers’ new table-setting weapon, wreaked havoc on the basepaths to ignite a four-run fifth inning.
The Dodgers blended those elements together to take 1-0 series lead, three wins away from their first title since 1988, on the 32nd anniversary of the night that last championship was clinched. Game 2 is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. PDT on Wednesday.
This is the 116th World Series in major league history and the first at a neutral site. It was technically a home game for the Dodgers, who finished with the best regular-season record in baseball. Their team-produced graphics and videos were shown throughout the game. The PA announcer applied a homey touch. Vin Scully baptized the unprecedented event with the words said before every game at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s time for Dodger baseball,” declared the retired legendary broadcaster.
Scully delivered the message in a pre-recorded video 70 years after he, at 23 years old, became the youngest broadcaster to call a World Series game then and since. It was shown on the big screen overlooking right field. The pro-Dodgers crowd of 11,388, spaced out throughout the stadium, roared. They were given a reason to roar again in the fourth inning.
Bellinger’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series was the biggest moment of his career. The celebration, however, hurt. Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder when he violently banged right forearms with Kiké Hernández, generating uncertainty on an otherwise joyous night.
But the injury wasn’t new to Bellinger. It had happened a few times before. He knew what was ahead: pain the next day before it got better. The shoulder remained sore Tuesday, but his status was never in question. He started in center field and batted sixth.
If there was any doubt the shoulder was fine, that was erased when he clobbered a 98-mph, first-pitch fastball from Tyler Glasnow in the fourth inning. The ball landed in the Dodgers’ bullpen beyond the wall in right-center field. After one home run in his first 44 career World Series at-bats, he had one in his second Tuesday.
He wasn’t going to spoil it with another overzealous episode. He had learned better. So he and his teammates tamed the celebration down to foot taps. Bellinger went down the line. Tap, tap, tap. His right foot stayed intact and the Dodgers led 2-0.
The Dodgers’ next scoring splurge happened on the legs and smarts of their superstar leadoff man. This is the Dodgers’ third trip to the doorstop of a championship in four years. But for the first time they have Betts. As Betts goes, the Dodgers go. And Betts went off in the fifth inning.
Betts began the frame with a walk. Then he stole second base to gift the country free taco from a national chain. Then, after Corey Seager walked for the third time in three at-bats, he took the lead on a well-executed double steal. With that, Betts became the second player ever with two steals and a walk in the same inning of a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth.
Suddenly, the Dodgers had runners on second and third with one out for the middle of their lineup. Betts’ next decision was masterful. Knowing that the third baseman was far from the bag, Betts lengthened his secondary lead. It proved to be the difference when Max Muncy hit a ground ball to the first baseman with the infield in. Betts dashed home on contact and just beat Yandy Díaz’s throw with a headfirst slide.
Los Angeles went on to score three more runs in the inning. They chased Glasnow after he threw a career-high 112 pitches in 4 1/3 innings and became the first pitcher to ever issue six walks and give up six runs in a World Series game.
That was more than enough for Kershaw. The left-hander, making his fifth career World Series start, wasn’t sharp in the first inning. His fastball velocity was promising — he sat at 92 and 93 mph, resurrecting the ticks on the fastball he didn’t have in his only start in the NLCS. But commanding his slider was a problem.
Díaz led the game off with a single on a slider. After a pop out, Randy Arozarena, Corey Seager’s only competition for hottest hitter in the postseason, stepped to the plate. Kershaw effectively pitched around him. He stayed away from his fastball against the fastball-feasting slugger He spun him junk out of the strike zone instead, and Arozarena walked on five pitches.
Kershaw then wiggled free of the jam. He struck out Hunter Renfroe swinging on a curveball. Manuel Margot grounded out to end the inning.
Kershaw threw eight sliders in the first inning. They induced two swings and no misses. But the pitch flummoxed the Rays for the next five innings. He threw 18. The Rays swing at 13 and whiffed nine times. Six of the whiffs were for strike three.
The sixth whiff came in the fifth inning when Willy Adames struck out to give Kershaw his 200th career postseason strikeout, moving into second on the all-time list. Adames was the 13th straight batter Kershaw retired. Then Kevin Kiermaier clubbed a slider over the middle for solo home run. The run was over, but Kershaw recovered.
He went 36 minutes between the pitches in the fifth and sixth innings, but the long break didn’t trouble him as the Dodgers scored four runs. He retired the side in order to complete the sixth inning with eight strikeouts and just 76 pitches.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to pull Kershaw despite the low pitch count. The decision quickly prompted a scare. The Rays scored two runs in the seventh inning off Dylan Floro, Kershaw’s replacement, and Victor González. They were pressing for more with runners at first and second, but Mike Zunino smashed a 105.6-mph line drive right at González, who caught it and threw to second base for an inning-ending double play. Crisis averted.
That was the Rays’ final threat of the night. The Dodgers recovered with two clean innings, moving one step closer to the championship they believe is theirs for the taking.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.